Tamara Cucchiara Sitka is passionate about succulents, which she calls the "plants of the future" because they are drought-tolerant, reproduce like crazy, and are easy to maintain.
They come in countless shapes, colors and sizes, too, which make for an endless possibility of intriguing living designs.
Cucchiara transported dozens of succulent varieties to her succulent design workshop at a friend's house over the weekend, along with some high-quality potting soil and all different kinds of containers, from traditional pots and vases to tea cups, martini glasses and one ceramic shoe.
"You're going to surprise yourself," Cucchiara encouraged, as the small group looked over all of the various succulents and tried to map out our design.
Succulents may be the easiest-to-propogate plant on the planet, which is reassuring for anyone who is just beginning to experiment with their green thumb. All you need is a cutting and a little patience.
In her workshop, Cucchiara gives tips on how to propogate single leaves by laying them out in a flat and waiting a few weeks until they begin to sprout roots. The benefits to propogating these plants yourself is that it costs next to nothing, and it's easier than pie. In the meantime, you can find cheap containers at the flea market and yard sales. The soil may just be the most expensive part of the equation.
The evening before the succulent workshop, I took a tip from a friend and went for a walk through my neighborhood with a pair of scissors and a bag. A tiny snip here and a snip there, not venturing (too far) into my neighbor's gardens, and voilá, I was on my way, with about eight different varieties from one street alone.
Succulent clippings can be planted directly, or you can wait for a "scab" to form, but Cucchiara, who has been planting from cuttings for years, hasn't noticed a difference in the success rate.
"Except if you're planting them in a wreath or to hang, then you may want to let the scab form," said Cucchiara.
Attending the workshop were three other women—which meant plenty of one-on-one help, and plenty of things to talk about.
We each picked out a pot and filled it with potting soil, making sure to fill it all the way to the top, so that the succulents don't sink later. Poking holes in the soil, we laid out our designs. Cucchiara instructed us on important design principles, like keeping the taller plants in the middle of the designs, picking out colors that match eachother and the pot, and learning how to use the rule of threes, which is more intriguing to the eye than even numbers.
Once the designs are planted, they need to be babied for a few weeks, said Cucchiara, until they take, which means they should probably be kept inside where it's warm. If there is one thing that will kill a succulent, it's being cold and wet at the same time.
"Observation is key to being a successful succulent gardener," said Cucchiara. "Just look at them, and pay attention to how they are doing in their environment. These are the most eco-friendly plants around," she said, sprinkling a newly-planted design with just a little bit of water, all that it will need for two to three weeks.
Eileen O'Halloran, a geographer at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, attended the workshop because she was looking for a creative outlet—something she realized she had been craving after she took a one-on-one watercolor class in Guatemala.
"It just made me so relaxed and it made me use the right side of my brain," said O'Halloran, who is excited to attend another workshop.
Once we get a knack for the basic propogation and design, we can move on to more advanced plantings, including making wreaths, vertical plantings, and companion plantings. Cucchiara is looing forward to implementing food and wine into her future workshops, so stay tuned!
Tamara's next succulent workshop is April 21, and will be a Mother's Day inspired workshop with a focus on making hanging succulent wreaths. Her workshops also address companion planting and arrangements that mix flowers with succulents.